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written Thursday, 11/22/2007

Trying to be…

One year ago: Teaching was wearing me down. Student apathy and mountains of paperwork caused me to question my dedication to this profession. Demands of UNO coursework and a burdensome 40+ page assignment required for my certification further soured my attitude. Feelings for an improbable romantic interest tossed me back and forth between elation and dejection. Hmmm, in some ways it seems not much has changed.

I’m still disheartened by some students’ indifference to learning, but others inspire me with their efforts. I’m still bitter about having to waste two “personal days” and many more hours with my LaTAAP (Louisiana Teacher Assistance and Assessment Program) portfolio, but at least the rest of my certification requirements are supposed to be a breeze in comparison. At least I’ve moved on past the former OoMA (Object of My Affection), although I still have a knack for setting my sights on the unattainable.

Like the rebuilding of New Orleans, personal progress sometimes creeps along at an agonizingly slow pace.

Since moving to Louisiana 2.5 years ago, I’ve gotten in the habit of taking time on Thanksgiving Day to write about the things I’m grateful for. It’s felt a bit disingenuous though to recognize on one day all the things that enrich my life year round. Over the last several months I’ve been trying to recognize all my good fortunes on a daily basis. Every day I benefit from the basic necessities of food, water, clothing, and shelter. I benefit from the intangible blessings of health, intelligence, freedom, and friendships. Every day! Even looking back on personal struggles, I now see opportunities that allowed me to grow and mature. Despite taking a moment every evening now to express “thanks,” I still spend too many waking hours taking the goodness in my life for granted. Even if nothing else changes in the coming year, I hope to become more persistently thankful.

Still Rhymin’

Poster display for my GNOWP presentation

I’ve enjoyed taking two classes at UNO this semester towards a graduate degree in Education: Effective Parenting and Child Behavior, and Special Topics in Mathematics Instruction. However, I also eagerly anticipate the free time I’ll enjoy after classes end next week (until next semester, that is). A month ago I even revisited activities from the Greater New Orleans Writing Project class that I took over the summer. Several of us were asked to present our writing lessons at an “October Showcase” attended by two dozen or so teachers from around the metro area. I led off with my “Rhymin’ Tight” lesson on classroom poetry. Following that, four other GNOWP members presented their lessons during two breakout group sessions. A raffle at the end of the event granted one school a free workshop to be held at their campus. I felt honored that that winning school, Mount Carmel, requested that I present my lesson for their entire faculty in early January.

While I haven’t been as active in my silly poetry writing as I was last year, I did take a moment to affectionately pen a few verses to honor a prominent subset of the Lusher High School student body. I recited the poem last month before the whole school at the daily morning conference. How many times in life can a teacher receive enthusiastic applause from a group of students after deriding their work ethic? These are the moments in teaching that I live for.

Ode to the Underachieving Student

Three cheers Lusher High; our pride is magnetic
You students are friendly, artistic, athletic
Blessed with such talent, it must be genetic
So why in my class are you so apathetic?

In social settings, you’re truly crowd-pleasin’
But in my math class, you’re puffin’ and wheezin’
Your work ethic’s weak dude, what is the reason?
You started off worse than the Saints did this season (1)

Laziness is contagious, no ifs ands or maybes
Like West Nile, the flu, Ebola, or scabies
Your apathy kills like an outbreak of rabies
We should send you away just like Britney Spears’ babies (2)

Your “food for thought” is too hard to digest
Your stomach knots up when you’re taking my test
When I have to grade it, I get so depressed
Graduation ain’t comin’ (huh huh!) Kanye West (3)

I’m tired of excuses, so stop tryin’ to swindle
You’re weavin’ your lies on a rickety spindle
Your flame’s almost out; I refuse to rekindle
I’m “big brains and no heart,” like my name’s Bobby Jindal (4)

Like a teenage Bill Clinton sneakin’ under the bleacher
You’d best not be cheatin,’ ‘cuz I’m the impeacher
You say, “Math is haaard;” What a pitiful creature
You whine worse than a cynical English schoolteacher (5)

So listen up kiddies, try as you might
To waste all your time here when we know you’re bright
Sustain that smart brain; Fight the good fight (6)
Make good grades, not war! Peace out, Mr. White

1. After reaching their first NFC championship game in franchise history last year, the New Orleans Saints started this season with a 0-4 record

2. Louisiana’s own pop star Britney Spears had just lost custody of her two young children to the courts

3. Popular rapper Kanye West, who tends to mock the American academic system in his albums, had recently released “Graduation”

4. In the run-up to election day, soon-to-be governor Bobby Jindal had been accused of being “big brains and no heart” by an opponent’s ad campaign

5. A cheap dig at English teacher Mr. Depp

6. Reference to a week-long event at school which aimed to raise students’ awareness of “Sustainability” issues (personal health, New Orleans, environment,…)

So Long, ‘Fro

I don’t assume I’ll ever match the irreverent brilliance that English teacher Mr. Depp and I exhibited during our epic feud last year. Nonetheless, moments of goofiness are essential for alleviating the stresses of being a teacher at Lusher (or a student, for that matter). I’ve been subjected to merciless ridicule for the afro I started growing a half-year ago. I hadn’t grown my hair out this long since I was a little kid, and combing out all the nappiness every morning had become quite unwieldy. I finally decided that “The ‘Fro Has Got To Go” in grand fashion. A United Way fundraiser became the avenue for a new hairdo. Students were urged to drop money into plastic jugs designated for their respective classes. Coins would earn points for their classes, while dollar bills stuffed into another class’s jug would result in points deducted from that class. Meanwhile I accepted applications in my classroom from students who’d be interested in being my barber for a day. The 10th graders won the fundraiser and over $600 was raised in all. I chose my favorite entry from all the applications submitted by sophomores. On Halloween day (a Wednesday), I handed over my electric clippers to one of my Algebra 2 students.

Gina’s design incorporated a giant “M” for “Math” mowed into my bushy ‘fro – or was it a giant “W” for “White?” She carved her pattern during lunchtime in the courtyard outside the cafeteria, inviting raucous cheers from the crowd. She aptly succeeded in creating a preposterous hairstyle far beyond what I had imagined. I wore the ‘do for two more days before shaving it all away Friday afternoon.

The poster I displayed around school to promote the fundraiser/haircut. The application form to be my barber. A collage of photos from the day of the haircut. Doesn’t my head look so small now without all that hair?

Quick Animation Fix

Teacher rule #1: Make fun of your students

I spent much of the past two Thanksgiving vacations indulging in Flash cartooning. I don’t find much time for animating during the school year. I’ve had an idea for a new cartoon for some time now, but I didn’t want to rush the process of creating something as timeless as the original Mr. White’s Classroom (Thanksgiving 2005) or as adorably (?) creepy as Meant To Tell You (Thanksgiving 2006). My latest cartoon will take some time to develop, but I just had to get a quick animation fix.

On Friday before leaving for our week-long vacation, I couldn’t resist teasing one of my Algebra 2 students. Jorge has a very enthusiastic personality. When he gets excited or impressed by something, he typically yells out, “Waaaaaaaah!” as if drawing out the word “Wow!” and then leaving off the last consonant. He let out his signature exclamation after I showed a particularly impressive math technique. I joked that he probably uses this call when approaching young women. Jorge is one kid who I know will laugh along with the ridicule rather than take offense. In honor of him and in honor of finally reaching the first significant holiday break in my third year of teaching, I satisfied my cartooning craving with this very brief animation.


So, back to this idea of giving thanks.

I’ve enjoyed another year without the catastrophe of natural or manmade disaster. The tropical storm season is almost over with hardly a threat to the US gulf coast. Mom’s been visiting this week. She still wants to see areas affected by Katrina over two years ago. While I wasn’t initially interested, it’s actually been another good reminder for me to cherish my good fortunes. Earlier in the year Mom had sent a check to a food bank in New Orleans East called Just The Right Attitude. On Monday we drove over to drop off another check in person and spend the morning volunteering some time. I helped unload donated food off a trailer and redistribute it into bags while Mom helped hand bags out to a long line of two-hundred or so (?) people in need. How fortunate I am to find myself able to be on the giving end of that line. Working that morning amongst inmates from Orleans Parish Prison earning community service hours, I pondered how thankful I am to have a mother and supporting family who ensured I never got lured into trouble. A big part of me just wanted to sleep in every day this week, but thanks to Mom for continuing to remind me to think of others once in a while.

Tonight I’m going with Mom to spend Thanksgiving evening with Nat & Joan, my Louisiana “surrogate Mom and Dad.” It’s hard to believe how close Nat came to death earlier in the year. Nowadays he’s as spry as I’ve ever seen him. Every time I visit I’m grateful to still have them both around. Spending time with family tonight, in good health, in a warm house, with plenty of food – could there be a better reminder to be thankful?

Thanks mom for making sure I didn't end up on a Crimestoppers billboard (yet)
Last year I took Mom through the Lower Ninth ward. This year, we drove through the Upper Ninth ward. Two and a half years after Katrina, so much of this region still looks lifeless.